Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What are you doing here?

Hello, all! Welcome to another un-edited creative exercise. This one gets a little background: I listen to a podcast called Writing Excuses (excellent podcast for writers and creatives, by the way) and at the end of each short episode they give a writing homework. Here's the one that inspired this story: 
A husband and wife find themselves at the same coffee shop, when both of them are supposed to be somewhere else. Write a conversation between them without using any dialogue markers (he said, she said, etc.). The point of the exercise is to practice writing character voices that are distinctive and unique. So. here's what happened when I sat down to participate in this particular exercise Enjoy! 

What Are You Doing Here?

I've always had a soft spot for those unlikely encounter jokes. You know the ones -- x, y, and z walk into a bar. My dad always told them, and my brother and I always rolled our eyes, but secretly I thought they were usually pretty funny.

Yeah, when your life feels like the set up for a punch's not quite as funny.

A man and a woman walk into a bar.

Nope, not quite.

A husband and wife walk into a bar.

Closer, but still not it.

A husband who's supposed to be on a 25 mile bike ride in the opposite direction and a wife who's supposed to be at work an hour away walk into a coffee shop. Well, technically, the wife walks into the coffee shop and sees the husband sitting at a table in the corner. 

My first instinct is to march over to the table and demand to know what he's doing there. In fact, I take a step out of line before it hits me that perhaps I don't want to be throwing stones from inside my glass house.

I get back in line and place my order and walk around to the other side of the counter to wait. My stomach knots up, but I force myself to keep my head down and look at my phone -- pretend to be looking at my phone, if I'm honest -- instead of staring at Denis. Which is what I want to do. But I don't want to risk him looking up because he feels eyes on the back of his head.

The coffee shop is busy, so I have to wait longer than is really comfortable, but finally they call my name. The knots in my stomach clench, hoping that Denis has his earbuds in or at least isn't paying attention to the baristas. At least Sarah is a pretty common name. I walk up to the counter and grab my latte then head quickly toward the door, head still down.

Ironic, because if I'd had my head up I might not have literally run into the person I was trying to avoid.

"Oh, I'm so sorry!"

"Excuse me."

I am now intimately acquainted with the phrase 'my heart was about to beat out of my chest.'

"Well. This is awkward."

"Awkward!? I was thinking something more along the lines of -- 'what in the world is going on?'"

"No...I mean...I think we're blocking the door."

We move outside into the gorgeous spring day step to the right of the door.


"Well, what?"

"Well, what is going on!? Aren't you supposed to be at the depot by now, chowing down on a BLT from the Bacon Burner?"

"That was...that was what I said, yes. On the other hand..."

"...On the other hand?"

"You're going to make me say it."

"Yes! I'm going to make you say it! For goodness sake, SAY SOMETHING!"

"Fine. If you're going to be like that. What are you doing here? I thought you had a shift this morning?"

"That's it. Mild curiosity? 'goodness, this is odd.' Are you mad? hurt? confused?"

"Are YOU mad?"

"Yes! I'm mad! Why did you lie"

"Why do you assume I lied?"

"Gahhh!!!! This conversation is so frustrating! YOU are so frustrating!"

"Can we start over?"

"Well, it can't get any worse."

"I'm surprised to see you, and I bet you're surprised to see me."

"Yes. And I'm unsettled, and suspicious, and right now I suspect the worst."

"Don't. Please. The truth is, I've been working on a project for a few weeks, something I wanted to be a surprise. The only time I could figure out to work on it without letting anyone know is during my usual bike ride. I come down here because it's away from work and school and most of the places you shop or run errands. It's nothing bad just...I didn't want to talk about it yet."

Seconds tick by.

"Well, I"m intrigued. Less scared. How long until you were going to tell me about your...secret?"

"Surprise...not secret."

"What's the difference?"

"Well, one implies the possibility of something shameful, or at least something that I don't want anyone to know about at all. The other implies something good. Happy. Something to look forward to. But also, to answer you question: in a couple of weeks."

"Hmmm...ok. I'll concede to your semantic clarification, and allow this to pass. But the waiting might just kill me."

A smile.

"And to answer the question you'll be too 'polite' to ask -- my being here has to do with more of a secret than a surprise, but it's not bad. I'm not cheating on you."

"That wasn't my first thought."


"Maybe my second thought."

"Finally! A little honesty and openenness! Look...I'm...I've started seeing a therapist."

Blink. Blink.

"And you're...ashamed?"

"A little, yeah. I never know what you think! You always seem to have it together, and I didn't want you to think it was all about you, or that I was dissatisfied or unhappy."

"But if you're seeing a therapist, doesn't that imply that you ARE dissatisfied or unhappy?"

"Well, yes. But not with you. A few months ago, I started having trouble sleeping, and -- you remember how I told you I had panic attacks in high school? -- well, I've experienced a few panic attacks at work, and between that and the insomnia I thought I'd get a little help."

"Sweetheart...why didn't you tell me?"

"Honestly, I don't know. Because I thought you'd try to fix me yourself. It's so hard to know what you think, and...I needed to do this without assuming any judgement."

My stomach is still in knots, but now my anxiety is directed at myself. I'd been staring over Denis's shoulder, afraid to look at his face and see judgement or worry or the lack of visible emotion that I'm used to seeing. But when I finally glance at him, all I see in his dark eyes is love, and worry, and sadness. He sets down his backpack and closes the distance between us, wrapping strong arms around me. A sob erupts from my chest.

"I'm so, so sorry. I should have trusted you. I shouldn't have kept you out."

"No, I'm sorry. I'm sorry you didn't feel comfortable sharing with me, and that my tendency to fix things is too strong sometimes. I would never judge you for seeing a counselor. In fact, I am so proud of you right now."

I pull back a little bit, so I can see his face. "Seriously?"

He nods. "You're taking care of yourself, and that is admirable."

"I love you, you know that?"

He pulls me in close again, kissing me like we're not standing on a sidewalk in the middle of the day.  A kiss full of apology and promise and love.

It's not exactly a punch line, but I like this ending better.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Wednesday list...

Happy Wednesday, friends!

1. Reading:
This past weekend I read an advanced reader copy of a book called Collateral Damage, by Taylor Simonds. It was a fun take on a superhero story with a snarky heroine and a fast-paced plot. Before that, I read The Glass-Bottom Boat, by Laura Thomas (which I've been talking about for a couple of weeks on social media as part of the author's book launch team). It's Christian romantic suspense, and it's a good book to grab when you have a few hours and want to read something easy-breezy and familiar. Then before THAT I read Liane Moriarty's newest book Nine Perfect Strangers which was kind of bonkers but I LOVED it. Moriarty has a gift for crafting books that I find myself getting immersed in -- when I turn the last page I feel like I've been on a trip to Australia and gotten to know a whole bunch of new people (some friends...some not so much friends)

2. Watching/listening:
I'm going to mention two things this week. The first, is episode 7 of the 10 Things to Tell You Podcast: What are you assuming about others? This is a new podcast, and I've really been enjoying it. This episode in particular really resonated with me, and was a good reminder to stop and think about the power and potential harm when we make assumptions.
The second thing I've seen/heard is Captain Marvel! Have we become over saturated with super hero movies over the past few years? Maybe. But I still like them, and this one was worth the ticket and popcorn. Here are some things I like: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel has the kind of confidence and swagger that doesn't need to prove itself, which is just so refreshing. Example: she's standing outside restaurant looking at a map and a jerkface on a motorcycle rolls up and says "give me a smile, sweetheart." She just goes about her business barely acknowledging his existence....and then steels his motorcycle. The other really standout feature of this movie is that the primary relationships are student/mentor and friendships. Now don't get me wrong, I like a good romance; but that's not the only kind of relationship that matters in a person's life, and I LOVED seeing a movie that explored other important relationships, and in my opinion was stronger for it.

3. Challenging:
I like spring-time, but this year allergies are kicking my butt. My two weeks of scratchy throat have settled into a cough that won't quit, and I'm over it.

4. Gratitude:
Going to the park is a favorite past time at our house, and I've noticed lately that the Harris County parks and rec department does a great job of keeping the county parks clean and in good shape, even the bathrooms!

5. Inspiration:
This was the verse of the day on my Bible app a few days ago, and it's just such a good reminder, both challenging and inspiring.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. - Hebrews 13:16

Thursday, March 14, 2019

A love note to cappucino


Espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and that perfect thick layer of rich and creamy foam.
The first espresso-based beverage I remember drinking was in college at Midnight Oil, a coffee house in a literal house. It was the perfect oasis on the edge of campus, full of art and light and cozy old couches. It had a big front porch for the days you just couldn't stay inside, and provided me with my first latte, full of sugar and flavor with a hint of independence and deep thoughts.

My first cappuccino was handed to me by a barista in Italy, where I also got my first introduction to the delightful experience of stove top espresso full of milk, paired with bread from the corner bakery and a think  layer of Nutella -- my first taste of Nutella. This memory lane includes afternoon siestas in the foot of that beautiful geographical boot, followed by chilled afternoon espresso -- strong and black and sweet. The Southern Italian cousin of sweet tea.

The first time I made my own cappuccino I stood behind the counter of a coffee shop in a North Carolina college town, just a quick 10 minutes to the beach. Married, no kids, and itching inside the constraints of perceived expectations -- a classic case of quarter-life crisis (is that still a thing?). I still feel a deep connection to the hum of an espresso machine, the caramel of the crema, and the hiss of steam in a stainless steel pitcher of milk. I learned to make foam not just bubbles, and to recognize the sound of milk steamed to just the right temperature.

Italy, London, Israel, Texas -- forget Coca Cola, cappuccino is the universal language.
The sound of people and cars and motorcycles. The smell of concrete, asphalt, cigarette smoke, salty ocean air, hot milk and toasted bread. Plucky guitars, raspy voices, low-toned pianos. Laughter, fingers on keyboards, stories shared. The shh-shh of pages turning and no one talking, and the warmth of the person next to you.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Wednesday list...

1. What I'm reading: I've mentioned before that I occasionally read books for paid review, and this past week I got the chance to read a book called Year of the Amphibian. It was surprisingly delightful! It's coming of age story about a year in the life of a 14-year-old boy in 1984 Los Angeles. It's about family, identity, belonging, friendship, and what it means to "home." Review books are hit or miss, but this one was definitely a hit. I'm getting ready to dive into Glass Bottom Boat, a Christian romantic suspense novel that I joined the launch team for (which means I get a free advance copy, yay!). It looks pretty good, and is available for pre-order now if it seems like your jam. Last but not least, I just started reading Liane Moriarty's newest book Nine Perfect Strangers. I've read a few other books by Moriarty (Big Little Lies, What Alice Forgot,) and suffice it to say she's super popular for a reason.

2. What I'm listening to/watching: My parents got us tickets to see the Old West Melodrama show for Christmas, and our reservation was last weekend. It's a fun, interactive, purposefully over-the-top show -- if you've ever seen Tombstone, there's a scene in that movie where the characters attend a Melodrama, so you can get the idea of what it's like. It was a lot of fun! (thanks Mom and Dad!)

3. Something challenging: I really like to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. You may remember that my kids are early birds -- like, 6:15-6:30 a.m. early birds. In my dream world, I'm going to bed at 9 p.m. and getting up before they do. HOWEVER. For a variety of reasons, 10 p.m. is the earliest I manage on a regular basis (although there are the occasional 9 p.m. nights), so I've resigned myself to the fact that unless I drastically change my habits I'm not getting up before 6 a.m. on a regular basis. Somehow, that's also translated into me staying up later and later...yet still getting up with my darling alarm clocks. I don't know why this particular discipline is so hard -- there's even a built in external reward! (More sleep) One day this phase will pass, or maybe I will figure out mindset shift I need.

4. Gratitude: I mentioned last week that I went to Missouri for my Granny's funeral last week. Although the circumstances were hard, I am really grateful that I was able to spend time with my family, and am extra grateful for my husband and some good friends who made it possible for me to fly by myself. It made the trip a lot less stressful and hectic, and I am so thankful for that opportunity.

5. Inspiration: This is a little different than what I posted the past few weeks, but if you need someplace to go on the internet that's just visually inspiring, check out the author Sally Lloyd-Jones on Instagram (you don't have to be on Instagram to click that link and go look at her account), She posts the most lovely photos of the world around here, and always inspires me to find beauty and wonder in the every-day.

Happy Wednesday!